Arianna Huffington Redefines Success and Wellness
Health and Lifestyle Huffington Post Chair, President and Editor-in-Chief, Arianna Huffington, shares her tips for women on thriving in work and life.
Mediaplanet: What was the defining moment that inspired you to take a different approach to balance in your life?
Arianna Huffington: On the morning of April 6, 2007, I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down, my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t, but doctors’ waiting rooms, it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.
We founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. But after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage, and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way.
MP: What are some key aspects to consider when thinking about your next step in your career or in life?
AH: Jobs and financial security will always be important, but when we fall into the trap of chasing only the successes build on money, fame and power, we miss out on the happiness, purpose and meaning that come from reaching out to others, pausing to wonder, and connecting to that place from which everything is possible. Remember that while there will be plenty of signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are and to take care of yourself along the way.
MP: Do you have specific metrics for defining success?
AH: Yes, to live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.
First, well-being: If we don’t redefine what success is, the price we pay in terms of our health and well-being will continue to rise, as I found out in my own life. And when we include our own well-being in our definition of success, another thing that changes is our relationship with time. When we’re living a life of what Harvard professor Leslie Perlow calls “time famine,” we rob ourselves of our ability to experience another key element of the Third Metric: wonder, our sense of delight in the mysteries of the universe, as well as the everyday occurrences and small miracles that fill our lives. And then there is the third indispensable W in redefining success: wisdom. Wherever we look around the world, we see smart leaders—in politics, in business, in media— making terrible decisions. What they’re lacking is not IQ, but wisdom. Which is no surprise; it has never been harder to tap into our inner wisdom, because in order to do so, we have to disconnect from all our omnipresent devices— our gadgets, our screens, our social media— and reconnect with ourselves. And the last element to the Third Metric of success is the willingness to give of ourselves, prompted by our empathy and compassion. If well-being, wisdom, and wonder are our response to a personal wake-up call, service naturally follows as the response to the wake-up call for humanity.
MP: How challenging is it maintain a work/life balance? How do you juggle?
AH: It can be very challenging, because for far too long we have been operating under a collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success. This couldn’t be less true. For me, the change came when I understood that not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, but performance is actually improved when our life becomes more balanced.
"If we don’t redefine what success is, the price we pay in terms of our health and well-being will continue to rise, as I found out in my own life."
MP: What would you recommend for women experiencing change in their lives or business?
AH: One of the best— and most easily available— ways we can become healthier and happier is through mindfulness and meditation. These practices can also help us navigate the twists and turns in our lives. Every element of well-being is enhanced by the practice of meditation and, indeed, studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation have a measurable positive impact on the other three pillars of the Third Metric— wisdom, wonder, and giving.
Mindfulness is not just about our minds but our whole beings. When we are all mind, things can get rigid. When we are all heart, things can get chaotic. Both lead to stress. But when they work together, the heart leading through empathy, the mind guiding us with focus and attention, we become a harmonious human being. Through mindfulness, I found a practice that helped bring me fully present and in the moment, even in the most hectic of circumstances.
MP: You urge people to “unplug” from all of the devices that currently tie us down. Why is that important to remember?
AH: Our hyperconnectedness is the snake lurking in our digital Garden of Eden. We are finding it harder and harder to unplug, renew ourselves, and make real connections with others. Disconnecting from our devices helps us to truly connect with ourselves and others, and be fully present in the moment. This is all the more important because, as Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who studies the science of self-control at Stanford’s School of Medicine, puts it: “People have apathological relationship with their devices. People feel not just addicted, but trapped.”
MP: If you could share one piece of advice with women, what would that be?
AH: Don’t just go out there and climb the ladder of success. Instead, redefine success. Because the world desperately needs it.